“Turns out, creating a logo that represents a city with nearly 350 years of history is difficult,” said Brendan Quinn of Philadelphia-based branding agency 160over90. “There are cliches to avoid (I’m looking at you, cheesesteaks, Rocky, and Liberty Bell), and just as many fascinating stories that are just too obscure to a general audience.

“So we looked at the history, the people, and this place for inspiration. Digging through the museum’s artifacts, we found this map of William Penn’s original plan for the city.

Philadelphia History Museum street map

“It was a tight, orderly grid with interspersed parks — Penn’s vision was for a “Greene Country Towne.” That street plan still exists in what is now called Center City between Vine and South Streets.

“So the project’s designer, Adam Garcia, began sketching versions of Philadelphia’s grid.

Philadelphia History Museum logo sketch

“We all liked this hand drawn version, as it echoed Penn’s original map while also containing the slight imperfections that make Philadelphia so unique and interesting. The final piece was adding type. And just like Philadelphia itself, that confining grid ended up giving the logo its distinctive character. Here’s the final product:”

Philadelphia History Museum logo

Philadelphia History Museum logo

Philadelphia History Museum logo

Philadelphia History Museum logo

Read a more detailed explanation on the 160over90 blog, or you can view the case study in 160over90’s online portfolio.

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February 5, 2010


Philly has such a deep, rich history of being red, white, and blue. (Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, US Mint, Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross, etc. etc.)

So, why the grey/teal combo? Seems a bit “trendy”, I assume it will have to be redone in 15 years when those colors are no longer the hot thing.

Love the integration of the old map and the type face, just think there is a more suitable color combination for the City of Brotherly Love.

I like this a lot actually. The only gripe I have with it is the placement of “the”. Personally, I think it would be better left off entirely if possible. But other than that, I like it.

First, thanks David for featuring the logo–we’re quite proud of it. And thanks for the feedback, Stephen. To answer your questions/concerns, the blue was chosen for two main reasons:

One, the official colors of the city are actually blue and yellow (which you can see on the city flag). Though not an exact color match for the flag, we felt the blue we used not only reflected that, but also achieved one of the client’s main goals, which was “conveying a modern take on a history museum.”

Second, we looked at around 35 other Philly cultural institutions and museums, and the vast majority of their logos used some variation of the red/white/blue motif. Our client doesn’t have a massive budget, so they need simple ways of differentiating themselves from the city’s many other museums. Hope that provides some insight into our color choice.

I really love 160over90 but this typographic-grid-as-logo is now done to death surely?

I have no doubt that the overall branding will look magnificent but as a logo it’s the same thing the world has been seeing since the Happy Mondays in the late 80s http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_l4tX0u7U_YU/SS5j5FHcdBI/AAAAAAAAAMg/u3tJEVHWzwY/S1600-R/Happy+Mondays810_MainPicture.jpg (my first exposure to it).

It’s all just a bit convenient. {project name = 25 characters = 5 x 5 grid = logo). If it were 21 characters?

Maybe it’s just me but this is always something I sketch out right at the start of most logo projects, just for a look see. The fact the ‘sketch’ element has been included perhaps indicates the desperation to make this overdone typographic treatment look a bit different.

And the ‘city-laid-out-as-grid’ is neither unique in a logo sense nor in a structural/town planning sense. I’d have thought Philadelphia nowadays was more than an old streetplan from 350 years ago that was never properly realised.

I like it in principle. But when we have to offer too long of a creative rationale for work it usually means something.

As hideous as the old logo was, it was actually far more legible, particularly as signage. I really do like the basic nature of this solution, though. Maybe it would benefit from a little extra refinement. I think the gray is very light and not helping. Obviously, making certain characters jump out doesn’t need to mean throwing others away.

I do appreciate what 160over90 is trying to accomplish overall, though.

more and more I find myself wanting to be in the room when these “major” branding companies finally present their idea(s)… even just for the look on the clients face “we don’t know any better, but just keep smiling and nodding”

wish all my clients did that…. and paid as much…

As a Philly resident, I’ve kind of been turning this one over in my head. After some thought, I’d have to say the pros outweigh the cons. The fact that it warrants this much discussion surely says something. I guess the bottom line is that it’s an ambitious and relatively novel solution. In all fairness:

1. It’s far better than the median average for the genre.

2. Submitting any work for critique by your peers isn’t easy. It takes real guts and is certainly praiseworthy.

3. 160over90 is a successful shop in a tough business climate. As such their work is going to meet with some knee-jerk reactions whenever they put their it out there.

Nice job keeping folks thinking / talking.

This is a different concept for a logo design, but one that is very original and actually relates to the service being offered. U like the way they have not gone for a standard logo concept, but something a bit more unusual and therefore unique.

Incorporating the map grid layout is a nice touch, with the imperfections preventing the design from being too rigid and monotonous. The font with its similar hand written imperfections works well combined with this grid, and the colour choice of grey and light blue allows ‘History’ to clearly stand off the page.

I would be interested to see how the concept for this was developed, and what other ideas were played with before settling on this concep

On the curve of design for public institutions in Philadelphia this is in the top 5%. To live here and be a designer is to be nauseated daily by some of the worst design in the country.

Great people are here doing great work, 160/90, FluxLabs, Frank Baseman, Heads of State, us, but the majority of publicly visible work is pathetic. 30+ years of Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin and Red White and Blue has taken its toll on these eyes.

When it comes to public signage this logo’s a great contribution to making this town look just a bit more modern.

I have to say, at first I did think the teal/grey thing was a bit trendy, but then again, isn’t it principal that most logos have a lifespan of 10-15 years anyway? I mean okay, we have the giants like Coca-Cola who haven’t changed their logo in over a century, but this museum isn’t necessarily a world-wide tourist attraction, like the Louvre is.

For what it is, I think it fits very nicely with not only the business, but as a stand out as well.

Just my two cents.

I like it. Colors, if needed, could be rechosen. I like the grid being imperfect. Sure, its been done before but as Paul Rand said “Don’t try to be original. Just try to be good. I don’t know I think it’s good

The colors were the colors of the defunct Arena Football League team. The grid is clean and modern, but confusing to me, and might be enticing, but does not speak immediately to “history” to me.

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